Letters Open science

Time for an open access secure online data collection tool

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e4805 (Published 16 July 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4805
  1. Xin Hui Chan, foundation year 21,
  2. William Wynn-Jones, ST3 anaesthetics1,
  3. Charlotte Lobban, foundation year 21
  1. 1John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford OX3 9DU, UK
  1. xhschan{at}doctors.org.uk

We welcome the call for greater openness in science1 and propose the development of a high quality tool for the online collection of data to facilitate collaboration and data sharing.

We recently conducted a multicentre observational study, collecting data from around 1000 patients. Data in such studies are typically acquired by completing case record forms on paper, which are then sent to a central collection site for database entry. Such practice, although standard, may be prohibitively resource intensive and fails to take advantage of recent advances in technology.

The technology for collaborative data collection is already available. We considered several web based data collection tools in our study, Google Docs being particularly promising. Free online, it allows multiple users to remotely populate electronic case record forms simultaneously, including through mobile devices, obviating the need for a separate data entry step and making data available as soon as the patient is included in a study. It has already been used in a clinical trial.2

Collaborative data collection over the internet shares many of the technical challenges and risks of data sharing, including the difficulty of ensuring the security of data in transit or storage. Potential breaches in patient confidentiality and inappropriate data manipulation are possible, but none of these risks should be insurmountable, as Groves and Godlee argue.1 The power of Web 2.0 technologies such as Google Docs should be harnessed to create an open access online data collection tool that is sufficiently secure for clinical studies. Such a tool would not only facilitate collaborative data collection but also increase the ease of data sharing.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4805


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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